Another abortion clinic closes in Texas as new law tightens access

by Lisa Anderson | https://twitter.com/LisaAndersonNYC | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 August 2014 04:52 GMT

An abortion rights activist, who chained herself to a railing in the gallery, disrupts a special session of the Senate to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, Texas, on July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone

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A year ago, the nation's second largest state had 40 abortion providers. By Sept. 1, there may be only six.

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — The wave of abortion clinic closures in Texas, which last year passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, continued on Thursday when Whole Woman’s Health in Austin closed its doors.

The shuttering of the Austin facility leaves the state, the nation’s second largest by area and population, with 20 abortion providers. That is half the number that operated in July 2013, and the total is expected to drop to six on Sept. 1 when the last provision in the sweeping four-part anti-abortion bill takes effect.

The law, House Bill 2 (HB2), restricts the prescription of abortion-inducing medications, bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic, and mandates that all facilities providing abortions meet the hospital-grade standards of ambulatory surgical centres  - or ASCs, which provide same-day surgeries that do not require overnight stays.

“The closure today of Whole Woman’s Health of Austin is the result of politicians acting against the women in our state when they passed HB2. They continue to be relentless in taking personal health decisions away from women by passing onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement.

All of the provisions of HB2 have been enacted except the ASC requirement, which is slated to go into effect on Sept. 1.

The U.S. District Court in Austin is scheduled to hear a lawsuit challenging some aspects of the law on Aug. 4. Brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the suit specifically seeks to block the admitting privileges requirement and the mandate that all clinics meet the ASC standards.

Critics call such legal requirements Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers or TRAP laws. They argue that such laws are designed not to promote the safety of women but to make access to abortion more difficult.

For example, they point out that many doctors at abortion clinics have difficulty obtaining admitting privileges because they are often from outside the state.

Critics of such laws also assert that most abortions occur in the first trimester and do not involve the kind of surgical procedures that ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), which can cost up to $3 million to equip, are designed to provide.

If the upcoming court challenge is unsuccessful, there will be only six ASCs in Texas as of Sept. 1, one of which belongs to Whole Woman’s Health in San Antonio.

“While Austin has stopped providing abortion care, our Fort Worth clinic remains open and we hold out hope that this trial will allow us to remain open and continue serving that community and possibly even reopen some of the Whole Woman's Health clinics that HB forced us to close,” said Hagstrom Miller.

Planned Parenthood has said it plans to open a new ASC in Dallas and another in San Antonio this fall.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)